DEVENS — Having heard complaints from several constituents who live there, state Rep. James Eldridge is investigating how Sylvia’s Haven is run.
The haven is a transitional housing complex for homeless women and children off Adams Circle at Devens. Its director is 76-year old Sylvia Anthony, who has been the target of complaints from several residents who claim she’s abusive, mis-manages the facility and does not deliver on the services promised in haven literature.
Eldridge discussed those complaints with Anthony on May 19 and, while he reported feeling “a little better” about things afterward, he said inquires will continue.
”It was a good meeting. I asked a lot of tough questions and got some good answers, but I’m looking for more,” he said. “I don’t have any conclusions yet. It’s a very complicated situation.”
Having toured the facility and spoken with both sides, Eldridge said the circumstance involves a lot of he-said, she-said testimony. The most difficult aspect was giving substantive documentation to conditions at the haven.
For her own part, Anthony denied any wrongdoing. She adamantly insists that her cash-strapped organization does everything it can for its tenants, attributing the complaints to trouble-makers who refuse to follow haven rules or pay rent. She said her track record was invoked when Eldridge mentioned the handful of complaints he’s received about the Haven over the past four years.
”You mean to tell me I’ve been in business for 20 years, helped over 900 people, and you’ve gotten four complaints?” she said.
While a handful of tenants have accused her of being abusive, Anthony said those charges have only come from those who are difficult, break the rules and don’t like to be told that.
”I tell them they’re wrong, and that I’m not happy with them, but I don’t abuse them,” she said.
On the topic of services provided by the shelter, Anthony contested charges that items such as food, transportation and education are not provided, saying the haven does what it can and succeeds in connecting the tenants with services in most cases.
While Anthony said Eldridge’s questions were answered, she expressed concern that they could be prompted by her landlord, MassDevelopment, which she is currently in litigation with.
Anthony is convinced that the agency wants the 20 acres that house the haven, which would be relocated onto a 2.5 acre lot elsewhere at Devens.
Since she came to Devens via an agreement with the Federal Government, not MassDevelopment, her consent would be needed on such a transfer. She said her refusal to do so has led to a lengthy campaign from the agency to bankrupt the shelter.
Anthony blames much of the haven’s current financial difficulties on the agency as well, saying it launched a smear campaign against her several years ago that cost the haven a substantial annual appropriation from the state. In the immediate sense, Anthony was concerned that Eldridge’s inquires are being prompted by a $100,000 line item for the haven that’s in the House budget for the coming fiscal year.
Anthony said the line item was inserted by Holliston Republican Paul Loscocco, who she has never met.
Eldridge flatly denied that his recent inquires are linked with MassDevelopment, saying its in response to complaints from constituents. He said he would not support state funding being resumed at the haven until questions about the management have been answered.
MassDevelopment Chief of Staff Meg Delorier has declined to comment on the above accusations.
”I have no comment. We’re in litigation,” she said. “We have been in litigation for several years, and we have not commented.”
Eldridge said he’s hoping to have all aspects of the investigation together within the next couple of weeks.
Anthony remained skeptical of EIdridge’s motives, but re-iterated that there was no wrongdoing afoot, saying she would have been gone long ago if that was the case.
Less easy to quantify was the effect such talk has on her, personally.
”It hurts, but I know I’m not doing what they’re saying,” she said. “I’m doing God’s work here.”